After shooting just 8-for-24 from the field over his last four games, fifth-year senior forward David Lighty started Tuesday’s game against Illinois 2-for-9 and it looked as though his offensive woes were destined to continue.
Despite his struggles, Lighty kept shooting. As he kept shooting, he eventually started scoring, and it didn’t seem as though he would ever stop.
Lighty led a 13-2 second-half run in which he scored all of Ohio State’s points, leading the Buckeyes (26-2, 13-2 Big Ten) to an 89-70 win against Illinois (17-11, 7-8 Big Ten) Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center. Lighty finished with 21 points, 17 of which came in the second half, along with four rebounds and six steals.
“It started opening up and they started laying off of me,” Lighty said of his second-half outburst. “I was just trying to find lanes, trying to make plays and be aggressive. Luckily shots started falling.”
The Illini hung with the Buckeyes early on and cut the OSU lead to 33-30 after a 3-pointer from senior point guard Demetri McCamey with six minutes to go in the first half. But the Illini scored just two points in the final six minutes as the Buckeyes closed the first 20 minutes on a 14-2 run.
Senior guard Jon Diebler capped the run with a 3-pointer as the half expired and, despite Illinois shooting a blistering 8-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half, the Buckeyes went to the break with a 47-32 lead.
But Illinois, in desperate need of a rÃ©sumÃ©-building win, wasn’t going to go away easy. The Illini started the second half on an 11-2 run and quickly cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 49-43.
Then Lighty took over.
His 13 points and three steals during the next three minutes put the Buckeyes up, 62-45, with less than 12 minutes remaining.
“Every time I looked out there he was like everywhere,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “His performance there in the second half was high-level and I think that David Lighty, he’s been here for five years, and I don’t think he’s ever gotten the credit he deserves for the player that he is and just the kid he is.”
Illinois wouldn’t get any closer than nine the rest of the way, as OSU pulled away for a 19-point win.
Junior guard William Buford scored 17 points, all of which came in the first half. Freshman forward Jared Sullinger scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season. After turning the ball over 18 times in Sunday’s loss at Purdue, the Buckeye had just three turnovers Tuesday, zero in the first half.
Senior forward Mike Davis led Illinois with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Tuesday’s loss was the Illini’s eighth loss in its last 12 games, and with only three games remaining, they need a serious push if they hope to make the NCAA Tournament.
Illini coach Bruce Weber said that, despite all that was riding on this game for his team, Lighty was too much to overcome.
“I’ve said since the beginning, I love him and I think he’s the (Big Ten) MVP,” Weber said. “He probably won’t get it because people aren’t smart enough, but he’s their heart and soul.
“In the second half we made the run, but he just took over the game. Lighty, to me, is their heart and soul, and he’s the reason they win.”